The Secret Life of Pets

Illumination Entertainment has had a highly successful last few years courtesy of the Despicable me series and its Minions spin-off which was released last year grossing over $1 billion worldwide. Now looking to consolidate that success with their newest venture The Secret Life of Pets which revolves around what the pets get up to when their owners leave for the day.

A terrier named Max (Louis C.K) has a perfect life with his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) until one day she returns home with another dog, Duke (Eric Stonestreet), who threatens to upset the stability of Max’s life. Whilst out being walked the pair get lost and end up being captured by animal control but are freed by the psychotic bunny rabbit Snowball (Kevin Hart). With Max gone his friends the tabby cat Chloe (Lake Bell), the pug Mel (Bobby Moynihan), the dachshund Buddy (Hannibal Buress) and the Pomeranian Gidget (Jenny Slate) set out to rescue him.

The immediate concern that comes to mind is that The Secret Life of Pets shares a similar concept with that of Toy Story, that when the owner isn’t present the pets/toys have a secret life of their own. The lead character Max/Woody lives an ideal existence with their owner Katie/Andy until a new arrival Duke/Buzz upsets the balance of their life. A lot of films follow similar narrative constructs but when you make an animated feature with such striking similarities to a movie as infamous as Toy Story then it is difficult to ignore the similarities. The films strengths lie mostly in its comedic energy with a fast paced multitude of gags flowing thick and fast. Not all of the jokes land but enough of them are amusing enough to keep you entertained throughout with the high energy levels of the voice actors playing a large part in the success of the comedy. Kevin Hart’s performance as Snowball is one of the more obvious examples and a lot of the films marketing has highlighted Hart’s role as the maniacal bunny rabbit. Equally worthy of praise are Jenny Slate’s boisterously fierce Gidget, Lake Bell’s obnoxiously arrogant Chloe and Albert Brooks as the hawk Tiberius who suffers from a lonely existence due to his tendency to eat all of the other animals he meets.

The problem with The Secret Life of Pets that stop it from reaching the levels of other animated fare like that of Pixar, Ghibli, Disney, Laika or even Illuminaton’s Despicable me series is that it lacks the dramatic cohesion and pathos of better films. Half way through an emotional subplot is introduced that threatens to tug at the heart strings but is shoddily mishandled, not given the time needed to develop the proper empathetic response.

There’s a lot of work clearly been put in the The Secret Life of Pets with a large ensemble cast who all bring a high level of enthusiasm to their roles imbuing their characters with zest and energy. The animation is sumptuous and slick with some gloriously designed wide shots of the cityscape and Alexandre Desplat’s musical score is vibrant and manages to compliment the energy of the film. The films plot is somewhat recognisable to older audiences and it doesn’t have the dramatic weight or clever subversions of the best animated features but as a  90 minute comedic romp it delivers enough laughs to keep you on leash.

Rating: 3/5

 

Advertisements

The Conjuring 2

James Wan has cemented himself as one of the more impressive horror directors in mainstream American cinema. The Saw franchise as a whole may have swapped out chilling suspense for high octane gore but the first film of the series was an announcement that there was a new name in the horror game and he would be one to look out for. In the last decade he has created a new franchise in the reasonably successful Insidious, had a bit of a failure with the still occasionally chilling Dead Silence and directed the terrific The Conjuring in 2013, a haunted house film crafted with a menacing sense of control. It was his finest work as a director and he returns for the sequel which is based upon the events of the Enfield poltergeist in the late 70s.

As a general rule sequels are inferior to their predecessors, doubly so when applied to the horror genre. Cheap to produce and easy to market they are a lucrative business for smaller production companies. Wan’s previous film Saw spawned six sequels before eventually coming to an end, with more a whimper than a bang, and I can’t imagine that franchise will be gone forever. So is The Conjuring 2 another knock-off imitation of better movies? Thankfully not as with Wan’s slick visual eye at the helm The Conjuring 2 has plenty of chilling set pieces to keep the audience on edge, with the assistance of cinematographer Don Burgess’s gloomy atmospheric take on 1970’s Enfield, he has fun extorting the film’s period setting for all its cinematic worth. There are jumps a plenty, as Wan is like to do, and although it may not linger amongst your psyche as a truly disturbing horror film it’s astute craftsmanship makes it an admirable effort. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga return as real life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, both comfortably at home in the roles and bringing a charm and thoughtfulness to the couple in the midst of all the ghostly goings on. Youngster Madison Wolfe is brilliant as Janet, with so much of the film resting on her performance it was critical they had an actress up to the task and this girl’s has an abundance of talent and a bright future ahead of her.

There are some qualms with the film, mostly with its narrative structure and some plot contrivances, as well thought out and chilling as some of the haunting sequences are they eat away into the films runtime long before the Warren’s even make it to Enfield. Also there isn’t much in terms of surprise or uniqueness about the movie, except that it’s been very tightly crafted. So what you get is a poltergeist film, a couple of clichés, a somewhat forgettable finale and a rather swelled running time of 2hr 14mins, which you imagine would have been trimmed if the film wasn’t directed by a name director such as James Wan.

All in all it may not revolutionise the genre, it won’t haunt your psyche for weeks to come or stop you sleeping for a night or two but as a well-crafted poltergeist movie it matched its predecessor in quality and is an entertaining feature for casual watchers and horror aficionados alike.

 

Game of Thrones Season 6 Episode 7 “The Broken Man”

**Contains Spoilers for the latest episode of GoT**

Last week’s episode contained a lot of set up towards what we hope will be a massive pay off and somewhat unhappily I have to report that this episode of GoT had a similar sort of aim. A lot of characters positioning themselves for a massive showdown, not to say there was nothing interesting going on with the return of one of my favourite characters, the introduction of a couple of impressive newbies and the hints of what is yet to come.

Jon & Sansa try to build there army. End up meeting the finest ruler in the North.

So this week Jon, Sansa and Davos attempted to rally the smaller Northern houses to their side. Having successfully won over the wildlings with a reminder of their joint cause (and perhaps more helpfully won over Wun Wun the giant) they head south to try and talk more Lords and Lady’s into following the Stark’s banner. I assumed we would be having a few discussions of the Sansa pleading on the lord’s loyalty and they would take up arms for honour and shizz. However it was far more interesting than that, instead we first met Lyanna Mormont, the Great Niece of former Lord Commander Jeor Mormont. Despite being only ten she possesses a sharp wit and an understanding of Northern politics that puts both Jon and Sansa on the back foot. Luckily Ser Davos engages his empathy overdrive and manages to talk to Lyanna as a Lady of a house rather than as small child. To say the least I am highly impressed with the youngster (Brilliantly played by Bella Ramsey) and despite only being able to pledge 62 men I hope we will see plenty more of the young bear.

Unfortunately Jon and Sansa had less luck appealing with Robett Glover (Played by Tim Mcinnery which is always nice to see) who refuses to follow the Starks banner. The North remembers the good and the bad. It seems the Glover’s lost too much following house Stark and having been aided by the Bolton’s in reclaiming his keep he dismisses the idea of taking up arms against them. This prompts Sansa to write a letter to an unknown party (Probably Littlefinger) to call for aid. Will this give them enough numbers to march on Winterfell? I assume we will find out in episode 9’s “The Battle of the Bastards” in a couple of weeks.

The High Sparrow is now Tommen’s wingman apparently.

Margery is now seemingly a reformed Lady who has embraced the faith of seven. The High Sparrow comes to discuss her not performing her ‘wifely duties’ in the marriage bed. Sadly we didn’t get to see the scene where Tommen comes to the High Sparrow complaining that he isn’t getting enough action. He discusses the importance of Margery conceiving an heir with Tommen in order to secure the alliance of the faith and the crown. Has the high Sparrow tipped his hand? Nevertheless he follows this action with a coded threat against Margery’s Grandmother that unless the Queen of Thorns leaves the city her safety cannot be guaranteed. Margery visits her Grandmother and slips her a folded drawing of a rose revealing to us that her true allegiance still lies with her family. As Olenna Tyrell prepares to leave she is visited by Cersei who attempts to convince Olenna to stay in Kings Landing and to help her defeat the High Sparrow. However the Queen of Thorns concedes that she believes they have already lost and more so blames Cersei for the whole ordeal. This leaves Cersei in Kings Landing seemingly unallied but apparently determined to fight on.

Where’s the worst place in the world to take a man without genitals?

So an Iron born Princess and her genital-less brother go into brothel, sorry do you know this one? Anyway Yara and Theon are in a “pleasure house” in Volantis and Theon isn’t really enjoying the experience. Seeing the shell of what her brother used to be prompts Yara into a ‘tough love’ approach forcing Theon into drinking ale whilst she tells him to either man up or kill himself. I don’t think hallmark cards would make great business in the Iron Islands (“I’m sorry you lost your penis, but just drink some ale and get over it you useless shit”). They have decided to try and reach Daenarys before Euron does in attempt to forge an alliance with the Queen of Dragons.

Arya gets stabbed, or does she?

In the last episode we left Arya sitting in the darkness aware of her impending fight with the deadly faceless men of Braavos. However in this episode Arya is prancing through the streets, meeting with ship Captains in the open and jauntily making her way through the city of Braavos. On her travels an elderly woman approaches her with a big wide innocent smile, only to the surprise of absolutely no one; she turns into the Waif and stabs Arya multiple times in the abdomen. Arya jumps into the river and manages to escape for now. There must be something more to this whole scenario? Surely Arya would be far more careful than to wander in the open whilst being stalked by the world’s most dangerous trained killers. When you’re dealing with something as confusing as characters who can swap faces then surely something could be amiss. That being said the final shot of Arya, wounded, walking through the crowded streets at the surrounding faces unsure if everyone is who they seem was very unnerving.

The return of Bronn and the Blackfish

It’s taken until episode seven but finally Bronn is back alongside best bud Jamie with all the wry quips you would expect from a man seemingly growing tired of hearing all of the Lannister’s favourite one-liners. Jamie and Bronn arrive at Riverrun which is under siege from the Frey’s who are threatening to execute Edmure Tully should the Blackfish not surrender the castle. The Blackfish however is unmoved by the threat towards his nephew and he calls the Frey’s bluff. Seeing the poor state of the siege under the operation of the Frey household Jamie takes command and gives one poor bloke quite the backhand slap with his solid gold hand, quite possibly the finest GoT slap since Tyrion struck Joffrey in season 2. Jamie arranges a meet with the Blackfish and offers to let his men live if they surrender the castle only the Blackfish is uninterested in negotiating and is prepared to hold the castle for as many years as it takes for Jamie to starve him out. It would appear the Blackfish is as staunch as ever, and with Brienne on her way to Riverrun shit appears to be on course with a nearby fan.

The Broken Man

This week’s episode opened with a cold open, a rarity for the show, and showed us guest star Ian McShane in a rare peaceful role leading a group of followers in building a small sept in honour of the faith of Seven. We see a group of four men carrying a log and behind them another log being carried by a single individual with a heavy limp and as the camera pans up to a disfigured face we are reintroduced to a fan favourite in the form of Sandor “The Hound” Clegane, my favourite GoT character. The cold open was used to spoil the surprise of seeing Rory Mcann’s name in the opening credits and it is pleasing to see the character survived his ordeal with Brienne in the Riverlands. We discover Ian McShane’s character Ray came across the beaten body of the Hound and nursed him back from the edge of death and brought him into his peace cult thing. Despite being a part of the group Sandor is still ostracised from the rest of the people, apart from Ray, on account of his fearsome presence. He maintains his brash vulgarity and cynical view but there is a hint of something within. He truly appears to have befriended Ray and respects him. During what basically appears to be the Westeros equivalent of an AA meeting Ray confesses the violent sins of his past, the robbery and murders he once committed and reiterates his belief that a person can never be too far gone to become good. Perhaps the Hound can find peace with a man such as Ray to guide him. However this is Westeros and a group of men, appearing to be from the Brotherhood without Banners, approach the encampment and question Ray as to whether they have gold, steel or food to offer. Ray states they have little of the first two but offers the men supper if they wish. They turn the offer down and ride away and Sandor warns Ray they will return with greater numbers. Later the Hound returns from gathering supplies to find the camp destroyed, the entire group slain and Ray himself hanged from the very Sept his followers were erecting. Alone and angered the final shot of the episode shows the Hound picking up an axe and walking away, presumably to seek revenge.

Death Count

Ray – “A pacifist in Westeros, It’s not surprising he didn’t even last one episode. His whole camp went down with him, but only he was blessed enough by the Gods of casting directors to have a name”

Parting Thoughts

  • So, Lyanna Mormont for Queen of the Seven Kingdoms?
  • Davos Seaworth as her hand? That guy is really good at talking to little girls. No, not like that.
  • A pleasant surprise to see Tim McInnerny in the episode as Robett Glover, surely he will be back. Why cast him for one short scene?
  • Sansa has to be writing to Littlefinger, right? If not him, then who.
  • Also it’s just occurred to me what happened to the Sandsnakes? They killed off half of Dorne in the season opener and we haven’t heard a peep since. What’s going on there?
  • So Cersei is apparently alone in her troubles. But is Tommen secretly on her side? Also don’t discount the giant zombie guard at her disposal.
  • I hope Theon recovers from his ailment of low self-esteem. And Yara recovers from her ailment of poorly written character syndrome.
  • So, conspiracy theory time, what’s happening with Arya? Was that Arya being stabbed? If not, then who? There are rumours abound of the Waif’s identity? Even talk of the return of the long dead Syrio Forel. In the past I would of said no, but this appears to be the season of resurrection with Jon Snow, Benjen Stark and the Hound all back in the game then why not the First Sword of Braavos?
  • Also is Richard E. Grant involved? I’m convinced he must be up to more. His character’s had about ten lines in the series so I’m expecting more. You don’t cast Richard E. Grant as window dressing, do you?
  • The Hound’s return is bittersweet. I would of liked for the character to have found peace following his near death experience, on the other hand the Hound + axe x by vengeance = something Alex really wants to see.
  • With Sandor back in the game could we have the opponent the Faith will put forward to challenge the Mountain?
  • Also why is the Brotherhood without Banners attacking the innocent? Are they under new management?

 

Episode Rating 4/5 – More set up for things to come. But the introduction of Lyanna Mormont, the return of the Hound, some snappy dialogue exchanges and a virtuoso turn from Ian McShane have left me as excited as ever for what’s to come from the rest of the series.

 

 

The Nice Guys

Shane Black’s newest feature is a spiritual successor to his previous noir film Kiss Kiss Bang Bang one of the finest films of the 2000’s. Having since then helmed Iron Man 3 he returns to the buddy cop/Private eye films of which he has been so successful in the past.

Set in 1977 a down on his luck P.I Holland March (Ryan Gosling) is searching for a lead in a missing person’s case that requires him to track down Amelia Kutner (Margaret Qualley). Amelia, however, doesn’t want to be found and hires enforcer Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) to intimidate March so he will stop following her. Healy breaks March’s arm and warns him to stay away. Following the encounter Healy is almost killed by two thugs questioning him about Amelia’s whereabouts. In order to track Amelia down again Healy teams up with Holland March, and his daughter Holly (Angourie Rice), this leads them into an ever deepening conspiracy.

Shane Black’s handling of this film is perfection as he captures the tone and feel of both his themes and setting. Having co-written the script with Anthony Bagarozzi I was continually caught up in hysterical laughing fits by the sharp wit of the material and the fantastic performances of both Gosling and Crowe, who get the measure of the films comic sensibilities to a tee. Gosling’s erratic Private Detective is a pleasure to watch as he continually fumbles his way into one idiotic venture after another. His chemistry with both Crowe and Rice is just a joy to watch as the characters inhabit their roles with the kind of natural ease that you just sit back and enjoy the spectacle that takes place. Angourie Rice is a real find as Holland March’s young daughter Holly with the kind of hilarious, mature, display that seemed evocative of Chloe Grace’s Moretz performance as Hit-girl from Kick Ass. She’s by no means as vulgar with her language or bloody in her action but the beyond her year’s performance is no less revelatory. Shane Black’s direction is slick, cohesive and masterfully composed. His sense of timing is flawless and is especially noticeable in the films fast paced action set-pieces which are wonderfully controlled and orchestrated in their composition. All of the supporting cast are terrific in their roles and Phillipe Rousselot’s fantastic cinematography captures the essence of the seventies with a style and swagger that is a joy to behold.

There’s little to surmise other than to say that you should definitely check out this fantastic film, Shane Black fan or not. It’s one of the best movies of the year and I hope you have the time to check out The Nice Guys.

5/5

Review by Alexander Halsall

Warcraft

Video game to film adaptations have had a rather chequered past with very few successes. This year has already seen the release of Angry Birds (which was a decent, if not fantastic, effort) with Assassin’s Creed on the horizon and Warcraft now out in cinema is this finally the year video game based movies start to garner critical success?

Warcraft takes place mainly in the fantasy realm of Azeroth, and predominantly in the singular kingdom of Stormwind. A group of orcs led by the sorcerer Gul’dan (Daniel Wu) are led through a portal to Azeroth. Amongst them are Chieftain of the Frostwolf clan Durotan (Toby Kebbell), his wife Draka (Anna Galvin), best friend Orgrim DoomHammer (Robert Kazinsky), Chieftain of the horde Blackhand (Clancy Brown) and half orc/half human Garona (Paula Patton) an enslaved half breed. The horde begins to attack villages in the realm and take prisoners prompting King Llane (Dominic Cooper) to dispatch Sir Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel) and a young mage Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer) to confront the foes whilst also calling on the help of the Guardian Medivh (Ben Foster) to help defend their people.

So there are a lot of characters in Warcraft, I’ve not even introduced all of the supporting characters in the above paragraph, and naturally not all of them are as well characterised as each other. That being said enough of them are imbued with enough depth that you care for the outcome of the majority of their storylines. The orc’s designs are impressive, with the aid of the high performance of the motion capture, and Toby Kebbell’s Durotan is one of the more impressive performers in this film. He is ably supported by Paula Patton’s turn as a half breed unsure of her role in the war to come and the ensemble as a whole play the parts well with Anna Galvin, Travis Fimmel, Ben Foster and Ben Schnetzer worthy of particular praise. Inevitably it’s the work of director Duncan Jones that is perhaps most important with his visual flair in managing to take what is such a CGI heavy film and invigorate it with a heft of weight that other fantasy films (Such as the Hobbit Trilogy) lacked in its action sequences. You feel the force of the hits, the sound of bones breaking which makes these CG battles more entrancing than your average fair. This coincides with Warcraft’s treatment of its characters as more complex beings than your standard blockbuster, though not all fully fledged there is a steady stream of intrigue and surprise within the characterisation that I was pleasantly surprised throughout. With such an epic scope Warcraft does sadly suffer as it attempts to cover all its bases within a two hour runtime fulfilling its ambitious narrative obligations alongside its necessary criteria to be a major studio summer blockbuster. The marriage is one of convenience and compromise than one match made in heaven, so to speak, as some secondary characters are left unexplored and some dramatic moments within the plot would have benefited from more time to be constructed than was allowed. Perhaps a director’s cut of the film will be made available to allay these issues at a later date. It would be wrong of me not to mention the fine contribution of Ramin Djawadi in scoring Warcraft, as a veteran of the fantasy genre (Having created the GoT theme that is so damn catchy) he continues his good work with a boisterous, pounding symphony that compliments the film terrifically.

All in all I was surprised how much I enjoyed Warcraft having heard so much negative criticism before I was able to see the film. Despite containing a lot of characters, locations and fantasy gobbledegook I never felt lost or confused by the narrative which shows Duncan Jones has a great skill for maintaining a coherent plot. With little competition this, for me, now sits as the best video game to film adaptation ever. If you’re a fan of fantasy then it’s definitely worth taking a trip to Azeroth, and if you’re not a fan well maybe give it a try as perhaps, like me, you will be pleasantly surprised by how attached you can get to an orc.

4/5

Review by Alexander Halsall

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

The sequel to 2014’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reunites our favourite renaissance painter named reptiles in their fight to protect New York City from an assortment of colourfully weird bad guys.

A year on from the events of the last movie the turtles, Leonardo (Pete Ploszek), Rafael (Alan Ritchson), Donatello (Jeremy Howard) and Michelangelo (Noel Fisher) are struggling to maintain their need to “live in the shadows” and as such are beginning to fracture as a team. Meanwhile Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry) organises a jailbreak to free the Shredder (Brian Tee) who is then sent through a portal and meets the alien warlord Commander Krang (Brad Garrett) who makes an alliance with Shredder to help him conquer the world. He gives the Shredder purple ooze which he uses to transform the criminals Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams) and Rocksteady (Sheamus) into a Warthog and Rhinoceros respectively. The turtles, with the assistance of corrections officer Casey Jones (Stephen Amell) and the returning April O’Neil (Megan Fox) and Vern Fenwick (Will Arnett) must unite to defeat these numerous threats.

A lot of fan favourite characters have been introduced in this adaptation with Krang, Rocksteady, Bebop, Baxter Stockman, Kirai and Casey Jones all appearing in this sequel with a range of success. Despite wanting to approach this feature with a positive attitude I felt like the film struggled to balance its excessive storylines into a coherent, functioning narrative. I’m not saying that I was unwilling to overlook the more absurd story aspects. 10 minutes into the film the Turtles modded out Garbage Truck turns out to have a pair of giant nun chucks weaponised onto its sides and I was happy to put my lateral mind to one side in favour of enjoying a light-minded action film. However just because you can overlook the movies unbelievable amount of tech gobbledegook explaining why you can turn two men into a Warthog and a Rhino it doesn’t mean you will enjoy the shallowly layered characters, poorly written dialogue exchanges or the exposition so mountainous you could drop it Southern France and turn it into a ski resort. Of the new characters introduced only Bebop and Rocksteady fulfil any real purpose both managing to be fleetingly entertaining at times, the same cannot be said of Stephen Amell as Casey Jones who is sadly something of a charisma vacuum in this film, whilst Tyler Perry’s bumbling scientist is supposed to be humorously irritating but only achieves the latter. I say these things not as slights against the performers, sometimes the meshing of material and actor simply doesn’t conspire to anything and this is one of those occasions. Krang is introduced as the criminal mastermind of the film but in the end he undercuts Shredder (Who had been functioning as the main villain of the movie) and is a boring final boss fight for the protagonists to overcome screaming about how much he is going to love conquering the world and enslaving the populace. I don’t desire every blockbuster villain to be as well characterised as Shylock collecting a pound of flesh but it would have been nice to have, well, anything of interest really. Megan Fox is able if not outstanding; Will Arnett is passably pleasing as a comic foil whilst the turtles manage be just about intriguing enough to stop the film from falling into true awfulness.

Basically if you liked the first film then there may be some enjoyment to be had but with what else is currently on offer at the cinema it might be wise to skip this venture. On the surface there is plenty of loud boisterous SFX and performances but it’s lacking in any real depth. Like a puddle on a rainy day it might be fun to have a quick jump in but if you tried leaping off a 10M diving board into it you might find yourself regretting the experience.

2/5

Review by Alexander Halsall